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How can augmented reality (AR) enhance real world experiences?

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With 5G, augmented reality (AR) gets even better. It makes images show up faster, delivers content quickly, and processes things more efficiently, unlocking the full potential of AR.

In future, the growing availability of 5G connectivity promises to enable innovative companies to take AR to the next level with richer, more responsive and more collaborative experiences. There is even more potential to unlock via the use of next-generation AI in conjunction with 5G connectivity and AR applications.

AR is a technology that superimposes computer-generated information, such as images, sounds, or text onto your real-world environment viewed through the lens of a camera in your smartphone or a specialized AR wearable. As such, it’s different from virtual reality, which is about immersing yourself in a completely computer-generated 3D world.

While there are some compelling applications for AR and VR already, the technologies have faced a range of barriers to mainstream adoption. One of the major concerns is how data-intensive these applications are, especially when they’re accessed via the cloud. Enter 5G as an enabler for AR.

5G—a gamechanger for AR

AR applications will start to come into their own when end-users can reliably stream high-resolution content, such as 3D models or high-definition video, with minimal latency. With its significantly faster data speeds, 5G promises to enable developers to create much richer AR experiences for end-users.

Another benefit of 5G is that it offers a dramatic improvement in latency. This effectively means that there is less delay between a user’s actions and the response from the AR applications. This will help developers to create networked-based applications that feel far smoother and more immersive.

5G also allows networks to support larger numbers of connected devices in smart cities, workplaces and other environments. This capability is becoming crucial in a world where the number of networked devices is growing exponentially due to adoption of the internet of things and wearable computers.

Next-generation AR experiences

Over the past decade or so, we have seen many impressive AR and VR demos and applications for consumers and businesses alike. AR navigation applications, for example, use AI algorithms to interpret real-time data from your surroundings and provide contextual information overlaid onto the real world.

Retailers, meanwhile, have used AI-powered AR applications to offer personalized shopping experiences. Some cosmetics brands have experimented with using AI to analyze facial features and suggest makeup products that match the user’s skin tone and style preferences.

In the B2B realm, industries such as manufacturing and field services use AI-powered AR applications to provide technicians with step-by-step instructions, equipment manuals, and contextual information overlaid onto physical machinery or equipment. There are even AR solutions that allow surgeons to share expertise during surgery.

These applications are set to mature as AR hardware improves and 5G penetration increases. Looking to the future, we can expect to see AR and VR converge in the ideas of mixed reality and spatial computing, which are all about computers blending with the physical world in a natural way.

 From AR to spatial computing

 Spatial computing encompasses technologies that allow you to engage with computers within a three-dimensional space. The promise of spatial computing is that it will enable us to interact in new ways with each other and with machines, as well as give devices the capabilities to navigate and understand our physical environment in new ways.

Consider the example of architects and designers using spatial computing to create 3D visualizations of building designs. They could overlay virtual models onto a physical space, then walk their clients through how structures will look and function in real-world environments before construction begins.

Or imagine interactive and immersive learning experiences that bled AR, AI and spatial awareness to make education more tactile. For example, students can explore virtual environments, manipulate 3D models, and conduct virtual experiments in subjects such as science, history, and anatomy.

We are clearly at the earliest stages of AR adoption and the technology is poised for rapid advances, spurred on by 5G connectivity and developments in AI. As we transition from AR as a novelty to its integration into everyday life via spatial computing, there is vast potential for richer, more collaborative experiences and compelling business applications.

By Ernst Wittmann, TCL Regional Manager for Southern & East Africa and Global Operator Account Manager for Africa

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